Much has been made in the past week or so of claims that our President has fallen prey to a bit of gender and racial bias in staffing his inner circles. In case you missed it, this photo in the NY Times prompted a wave of news items and opinion pieces about whether Obama prefers to employ white dudes rather than living out the dream of a diverse and equal America he promoted relentlessly on the campaign trail.
I cheered on Dowd for calling out the hypocrisy of Democrats smugly condemning Republican “binders of women” when the Democratic Party is clearly not enjoying any post-feminist sunset. I also appreciated this update of an earlier study of professional women in Washington D.C. revealing how the “old boys club” is still in full swing in this town—if you ask women. Here’s one that squarely blames Obama for ignoring the “optics” of his woman problem because he’s got the policies right. And finally, one of my favorite blogs, Feministing.com, published a simple but straightforward post on Obama’s gender/race gap. That piece concludes:
Yes, there are too many white men in the White House, but there are too many white men everywhere you turn in politics.
Well said. Obama’s thoughtlessness about these decisions reveals what every woman working in politics and policy knows: it’s 2013 and still a man’s world. Women represent 18% of the House and 20% of the Senate. We’re 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs. We hold 20% of top positions across business, law, academia, and journalism. But we make up more than half the workforce and are better educated than men (more BAs, more MAs, and almost as many MBAs and law degrees). Despite this, qualified women aren’t getting equal pay, or the shot at promotions—including in Obama’s White House.
I believe this is what must change before anything else in American politics shifts. As progressives, we’re working with hope toward change for a wide swath of issues we all care about—education, poverty, violence, the environment, choice, etc. But if we realistically hope to change anything, we’re going to need to address the fact that our political system is filled with white dudes and that unless our government becomes more representative of America, it will continue churning out status quo policies (and hiring practices).
A couple of things. I like white dudes. There exist some really awesome white dudes. American white guys, even. But the knapsack of white privilege and patriarchy fits really comfortably and doesn’t require much critical thought from those who wear it. It’s not like I believe there’s a secret class in high school that all the white guys get pulled out of class for—like some racial/masculinity indoctrination curriculum where they don the knapsack and learn about pay inequity and beer commercials. That’s crazy.
Power is definitely a complicated concept, and you could spend decades thinking through Foucault, Gramsci, MacKinnon, and what many others have written about it. But I think we can agree that it’s generally something that doesn’t get transferred (to run with a loose concept) without a fight. Just ask any redistricting commission across the country. Or elementary school kids playing with Legos. But nor is power something that is easily identified by the masses themselves.
So yes, we cut Obama too much slack on parity/equality issues within his administration because he’s a black man breaking a glass ceiling himself. But we’re also cutting him slack because we don’t see women and minority under-representation in American politics as a problem. Men don’t see it as a problem and women don’t see it as a problem. It’s the status quo and it’s the reality in our country—just like gun violence, crappy schools, smog-filled air, and institutionalized poverty. But unlike these other issues, under-representation is not something that progressives or feminists have honestly admitted is holding us back as a democracy.
To me, our first priority should be clearly seeing the gender and racial gap in American politics and committing ourselves to changing it.
The Pleasant Progressive